The Washington Post

Charges dropped against D.C. police officer

Prosecutors have dropped a resisting arrest charge and alcohol-related charges against a veteran D.C. police officer who is suing the Prince George’s County police officers who took him into custody.

D.C. Officer Richard A. Merritt had been charged criminally with resisting arrest, having open containers of alcohol and failing to obey a lawful order in the September incident. Merritt in turn had sued the officers who charged him. He alleged that they hit him in the face and beat him in the incident last year outside a Fairmount Heights restaurant and liquor store.

This week, prosecutors dropped the criminal charges against Merritt, online court records show. Nancy Lineman, a spokeswoman for the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office, said in an e-mail that the decision to do so was “based on the totality of the circumstances.”

“Our office exercised our discretion and dismissed the charges in this case,” she said.

In an e-mailed statement, Prince George’s police spokeswoman Julie Parker said the department had “made an inquiry with the State’s Attorney’s office regarding their decision to drop the charges.” Police declined to comment further.

Online court records show that Merritt’s lawsuit against the Prince George’s officers and county government is ongoing. The lawsuit, which seeks $3 million, accused the officers who arrested Merritt of hitting him in the face, head and body and beating his legs with a baton.

Police said at the time that Merritt, an officer for more than 23 years, was “in possession of” a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whisky outside the Ebony Inn. During his interaction with officers, he was “moving his hand around his waistband” — where one officer suspected he had a gun. Once Merritt was on the ground, police have said, he put his hands underneath his stomach to resist attempts to handcuff him.

Lineman said in an e-mail Thursday that Merritt “never identified himself as a police officer.” Merritt has disputed that, saying that after he identified himself, officers tried to take away his phone and then forced him to the ground, where they punched and kicked him, and beat him with a baton

Jimmy Bell, Merritt’s attorney, said Merritt “never should have been arrested,” and witness statements from non-police officers supported his version of events.

“We knew all along that he was going to be exonerated,” Bell said.

Bell said Merritt remains on a non-contact status with the D.C. police department, meaning he can work but not interact with the public. He said there is a hearing scheduled to review that status in two weeks.

This post has been updated.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.


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